If you're selling on FBA, you want to try to send your products into Amazon directly as often as possible and avoid 3PLs. Why? Because 3PLs are expensive.
While shipping products from China to Amazon warehouses isn't incredibly difficult, it's also slightly more complex than asking your supplier to stick a UPS label on a product and send it to a single Amazon warehouse. In this post, I'll discuss the different ways you can get your products to Amazon FBA distribution centres.
Your Choices: Direct to FBA or with a Third Party Logistics Company (3PL)
So before I begin, allow me to give you a bit of bad news. As of 2023, Amazon is making it harder and more expensive to ship your inventory directly into FBA from China because of inventory storage limits and hefty ‘aged-inventory' surcharges. Basically, if you're planning on having your inventory sit at Amazon for 6 months or more, you're going to be way better off using a 3PL. However, if your inventory turns relatively quickly, then shipping directly into FBA from China is likely going to be your best option.
Getting your products to Amazon FBA really boils down to three choices:
- You can ship to your own warehouse/house in the US first and then to Amazon
- You can ship to Amazon directly from China using Amazon Global Logistics
- You can ship to Amazon directly from China using your own freight forwarder
Amazon has its own freight forwarding service called Amazon Global Logistics (AGL). With AGL, Amazon will pick up your goods in China and ship them directly to an Amazon warehouse. This is your best option for shipping directly into FBA warehouses from China but there are some complications (specifically inventory limits). You can see our guide on Amazon Global Logistics here.
You can also ship directly into China using your own freight forwarder. This is relatively straight forward and most freight forwarders are familiar with how to ship into Amazon. Whether you use Amazon Global Logistics or your own freight forwarder, your supplier will need to apply Amazon shipping labels to all of your cartons.
You can also have your products shipped directly to your house or a 3PL (third-party logistics company). Once at your ‘warehouse' you can simply ship your products into FBA warehouses with UPS partnered carriers. This is the simplest way but also the most expensive.
Using Import Records to Find and Vet Chinese Suppliers
One of the best things an importer can do is to use import records to help them find products to import and vet suppliers.
As mentioned, in America, import and export records are public information, however, the government does not catalog or give easy access to this information. However, there are tools that do allow you to easily search for this information, the most popular and cheapest being Jungle Scout (others include Import Genius and Panjiva).
These tools allow you to:
- Find out what Chinese supplier a competitor is using (great for finding products)
- See how much a supplier exports
- Find out what suppliers export specific products
See our article A Secret Weapon for Doing Supplier Research
The Pros/Cons of Shipping Direct to Amazon FBA
Let's look at the pros and cons of shipping direct to Amazon from China.
Direct to FBA Pros
- Less handling of your products
Direct to FBA Cons
- Can't inspect order domestically before it gets to Amazon
- Can't use partnered carriers
- Shipments to multiple Amazon FCs is challenging
- Supplier knows you're selling on Amazon
The biggest advantage of shipping from China to Amazon directly is that it is much quicker and cheaper. You will normally save 1-2 weeks in transit time if shipping direct from China. You will also eliminate 3PL costs which are hundreds or thousands of dollars per shipment, depending on the size.
The biggest problem with shipping direct from China to Amazon FBA is if you're shipping many different items, especially when some of those items are oversized and some of them are standard size. Amazon will always require standard-size items and oversized items to go to different warehouses, meaning you can't ship them together (even if you pay a placement fee, see below).
You can determine if Amazon will want you to ship to multiple FCs by creating a shipment within Amazon (do not approve the shipment).
As of 2024, Almost All Items Go to Multiple Warehouses Unless You Pay Extra
In 2024, Amazon basically completely changed logistics and requires all shipments to be sent to multiple FCs unless you pay extra to ship to one FC (called a ‘placement fee'). Previously, standard size items would almost always go to just one warehouse.
This placement fee will apply whether you ship via your own forwarder or with Amazon Global Logistics (although Amazon is giving a bit of a discount for shipments with Amazon Global Logistics).
There used to be a number of blackhat ways to ship directly into one FC (including ignoring other shipments or using software) but Amazon has been very aggressive in 2023/2024 of closing these loopholes. So in a nutshell, if you want to ship directly into Amazon and avoid using a 3PL you're going to pay more for a placement fee.
Three Easy Steps to Ship Direct to Amazon from China
Below will outline how to ship directly to China using sea or air shipping. If you'd like to ship full containers to Amazon you can see our full article on how to ship full containers direct from China to Amazon FBA.
- Create a shipment in Amazon Seller Central (and pay for placement). The first thing to do is to create a shipment in FBA and find out what warehouse you're going to. Replenish inventory as you normally would within Amazon Seller Central (see below). Again, as of 2024 you're probably going to need to pay extra for ‘placement fees' to get your shipment to one warehouse.
To send items directly from China to FBA first make a draft shipment to find out what FC your shipment is going to.
If you're shipping using Amazon Global Logistics, enter your factory's China address as the Ship from address. Otherwise, use a Southern California Ship From address such as the address below. This increases the likelihood of you being able to ship to a California FC, which is the most efficient distance-wise from China (Amazon does not care what address you put here as you cannot use partnered carriers).
- Once you've confirmed you're only shipping to one warehouse, have your supplier apply barcodes to each individual item, carton labels to each master carton, and pallet labels to the four sides of each pallet (if shipping pallets). A pallet will look like below. Whether you're using Amazon Global Logistics or your own freight forwarder, this process will be exactly the same.
If exporting pallets from China you must ensure the pallets are ISPM-15. They may charge you more for this.
- Set a pickup time for Amazon Global Logistics OR arrange with your freight forwarder for door-to-door service from China to the address of the designated Amazon warehouse. If you're shipping via Amazon Global Logistics, you will set a date that your shipment is ready and Amazon will contact your supplier to arrange pickup. If you're using your own freight forwarder then ensure your freight forwarder has shipped to Amazon before and is comfortable with their carrier appointment requirements (most are).
There are also a number of services popping up within China that consolidate your shipments and ship direct to Amazon FBA. Two popular ones are mclhk.net and antlogistics.com.cn. These services will quote you an all-in-one rate (including sea freight, overland freight, and customs clearance) per CBM. The rates are very good but there can be significant language issues.
All Duties and Freight Must be Prepaid
Amazon won't pay a penny to accept your products so they must be shipped Delivery Duty Paid (DDP).
If you're shipping via sea, this isn't an issue as you will most likely need a customs broker to clear your shipment. If using Amazon Global Logistics, you'll enter your customs information then and Amazon will bill you for the duties. If using your own freight forwarder you'll need to make sure you pay for this ahead of time. However, if shipping via air courier (i.e. UPS/FedEx/etc.) by default duties and other charges will be billed to the receiver. If shipping by air courier you must specify for the charges to be billed to the sender (DDP).
If your shipment is below the $800 cost then it will fall below the $800 de minimis threshold and no duties should be owed.
The Pros/Cons of Shipping to a Third-Party Logistics (3PL) Company First
Let's now look at the Pros and Cons of shipping first to a 3PL. For better or worse, with Inventory Storage limits that Amazon aggressively rolled even more in 2023 along with hefty ‘aged inventory surcharges' 3PLs are becoming a greater requirement.
- Can inspect the order domestically before it arrives at Amazon
- Don't have to worry as much about Inventory Limits
- Can use partnered carriers
- Dividing shipments to multiple Amazon FCs is easy
- More expensive
- More handling of your products
You can simply have your shipments from China shipped directly to yourself or you can use a 3rd Party Logistics company (3PL). A 3PL will receive your shipment from China and either warehouse it or ship it to Amazon from you. Along with the other advantages of shipping this way is that you can now use Amazon Partnered Carriers for either small parcel shipments or LTL and it is very cheap. The other main advantage of shipping via a 3PL is that you don't have to worry as much about Amazon's inventory limits. You can “drip” your inventory into Amazon when you want and in smaller batches.
Using a 3PL in between is, in fact, advantageous in almost every way except time and money. These are very important factors though.
A 3PL is likely going to spend 2-5 days receiving your stock and preparing it. It will also take a few more days in transit time from your 3PL to the designated Amazon FC. So more or less, using a middleman will add at least 1-2 weeks in lead time to get to Amazon FBA.
Most 3PLs are going to charge you a receiving fee (normally around $1-$5 per carton or $10-$50 per pallet), a pick/pack fee to actually ship the products (not including carrier fees of course) to Amazon FBA (normally around $1-$4) any labeling fees like barcodes (normally around $0.1-$0.25), and finally storage fees. Below is an example pricelist from a 3PL.
When to Ship Direct and When to Use a Middle Man
So when should you ship direct to Amazon and when should you use a 3PL?
When to use a middleman when shipping to Amazon FBA:
- It's your first shipment from a supplier, this way you can inspect it and also have an American-based company prep/label it.
- You have a lot of products and your inventory limits won't allow you to ship it all into Amazon.
- It's your first time using FBA, this way you avoid making any errors resulting in your shipment being rejected and sent back to China.
- It's financially cheaper to use a middleman specifically due to the savings in having one consolidated shipment sent from China.
When to Ship Directly from China to FBA:
- You're shipping a small physical amount of products (1 carton) and it is valued under $800.
- You're shipment doesn't exceed your inventory limits.
- Time is absolutely critical for you and every day counts.
- You have lengthy experience with your supplier (and/or you've used a third-party inspection agency in China) and you have lengthy experience shipping products to Amazon FBA and it's cheaper than using a middleman.
In my opinion, if you're relatively new to the whole importing game or Amazon FBA game, you should have your first couple of shipments sent directly to your home or business if at all possible. You should handle your products personally at some point.
Hopefully, this article has addressed the pros and cons of shipping directly from China to Amazon FBA as well as using a middleman.
How do you ship your products to Amazon FBA warehouses? What has been your experience shipping directly from China? Has everything gone smoothly or have you run into a few hiccups along the way? I'd love to hear about your experience in the comments below.